PITTSBURGH — Pitt will travel to Louisville on Friday to face-off with the No. 1 team in the country and the only remaining undefeated team in the ACC, the 8-0 Cardinals.
Louisville’s starting five consists of two juniors (Jordan Nwora and Darius Perry) and three redshirt seniors (Ryan McMahon, Steven Enoch, and Dwayne Sutton).
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel thinks the opportunity at hand for his young bunch is nothing but beneficial. As Pitt is currently on a five-game winning streak and sitting at 1-0 in conference play, Friday will certainly be the Panthers’ most daunting task of the season. But it gives them a general idea of where they stand in the early stages of Capel’s second season at the helm.
“I’ve tried to adopt the mindset since I’ve been here, that every game is the most important game — because we’re playing,” Capel said. “We aren’t there yet. But I do understand that this is a huge opportunity for us. As a player and competitor, you want to be in these situations,”
On Tuesday, Louisville defeated No. 4 Michigan 58-43 at the KFC Yum! Center in decisive fashion. The Wolverines’ 43 points were the lowest total in their last three seasons.
“They don’t give you a lot of driving opportunities,” Capel said. “They are very connected on the defensive end. … Usually, when you are older, you have a better concept of defense.”
The Cards will be led by preseason conference player of the year in Nwora, who is averaging 21.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
“(Nwora) is the best scorer in our league,” Capel said. “He’s relentless in his pursuit to score the basketball. He (scores) at all three levels. … The rest of their guys fill their roles at a very high level. They are a team that is very comfortable with who they are, and that’s one of the reasons why they are so good.”
The KFC Yum! Center is known as one of the premier environments in all of college basketball. It will be crucial for Pitt’s young team to handle the adversities that come with going into an opposing team’s arena in a conference game against an opponent of Louisville’s status.
“You have to have confidence and understand (the moment),” Capel said. “One of the things that we want them to do is be instinctual. But we have to teach them how to do that within the team concept.”
Guys like freshman Justin Champagnie, and grad-transfers Ryan Murphy and Eric Hamilton are all new to a road challenge as such in the ACC. But all three have been the key cognitions as a supporting cast to Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
Hamilton is averaging a double-double (10.3 points and 10.0 rebounds) in the Panthers’ last four games. Murphy is leading the team with 16 3-point field goals and Champagnie has added six double-figure scoring outcomes.
Pitt has two all-time wins in 19 games against a No. 1 ranked team. Both were under head coach Jamie Dixon and against Connecticut in the 2008-09 season. The last time that they faced a top-ranked team was under Kevin Stallings in the 2017-18 season against Virginia, when Pitt lost 66-37.
Pitt and Louisville have both been stout on the defensive end. The Panthers have only allowed 58.9 points per game, and Louisville is right behind them at 59. Pitt is second in the ACC in scoring defense behind only Virginia.
Xavier Johnson is one of only three players in the ACC, averaging at least 10 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game.
Pitt looks to break their 21-game road ACC losing streak.